Oh. No. Avoid eye contact.
He’s coming toward you with his too-broad smile, shiny gold chain bracelet and measuring tape. Before you can mutter, “Just browsing,” the suit salesman is rattling on about lapels, vents, fabrics and linings.
In a daze, you have a vision of yourself encased in shiny fabric and double vents. You’re handing over your credit card…
Shake it off. Walk out of the store. Now.
Yes, you need a suit for a job interview, friend’s wedding or other important occasion—check out our Suit Yourself Infographic for occasion-specific guidance. But fact is, you don’t have to make this important wardrobe investment in a panic. Steered by Mike, the Suit Guy. Or by forking over a month’s rent for something that doesn’t fit your body or your lifestyle.
What you need is a few trustworthy pointers, some reliable tips on what to look for, what to steer clear of—and how to avoid getting fleeced.
How much should you spend?
A good suit is probably the most expensive clothing you’ll buy to date. That said, you don’t have to drop four figures to get a distinctive suit that will provide years of sartorial service. You’ll find plenty of quality options in the $500 to $800 range.
There is no One Perfect Suit out there.
Every man can look good in a suit. But not just any suit. That double-breasted number that works on your lanky friend may widen your athletic frame. The three-button style that adds gravitas to your baby-faced brother might exude a little too much buttoned-up rigor for your taste.
The goal is to find the suit that’s right for you: appropriate for the occasion, versatile and figure-flattering. There’s also a certain je ne sais quoi to the perfect suit. It will make you feel grown up in a good way. Not to mention James Bond-level dashing.
How to discover this magical menswear? Follow our four steps to suit success…
1. NAIL THE SILHOUETTE
First things first. Consider the shape—what tailors call “silhouette”— of the suit. Look at the way it fits, frames and works with your body. Suit shapes fall into two categories:
- Structured suits are lean, fitted and a bit stiffer in feel than other types. A structured suit tailored in the English tradition has almost a military sensibility. French and some Italian-cut suits are less regimented but still provide structure with light shoulder padding and high armholes that emphasize good posture.
- Soft suits are boxier and baggier, with a more relaxed look and feel. This unrestrictive silhouette is typified by American “sack suits.” Another soft example are “Neapolitan” tailored suits, with their natural shoulders and effortlessly elegant line.
Let’s talk closures… In addition to softness versus structure, the number of buttons on your jacket dramatically affect its shape.
- Three-button suits are cut with a higher closure that reveals less of your shirt. This covered-up look together with the jacket’s traditionally longer length makes it a handsome choice for tall or more sturdily built guys. It’s also a winner on slim, youthful men because the slightly more “buttoned up” formality can lend your look maturity.
- Two-button suits, with their deep V-front and lower button closure, look terrific on a wide variety of body types. Often cut with more room than a three-button suit, the two-button offers the best proportions for broader guys on the shorter side, and can disguise a belly.
- Single-button suits are cut with the deepest V-front of all the styles, making it the least formal evening option. Today seen most often on tuxedos—less dressy than white-tie—the single-button style makes a great dinner jacket, but isn’t appropriate for daywear in corporate offices.
- Double-breasted suits definitely rate a mention in any button breakdown. Unlike a single-breasted blazer, which should have an easy fit, “A double-breasted suit is actually supposed to be tight,” says Robert Nelson, brand manager for Vince Camuto Men’s. “The fabric should pull a little bit at the top closed button. That is the identity of that piece.” Because of its snug, almost constricting fit, tall guys with slender frames best pull off the double-breasted jacket.
2. FOCUS ON THE SUIT’S FEATURES
It’s all about the details. Little things like the right lapels, vents and pockets make a huge difference.
- Notched lapels are designed with a cutout “V” located where the jacket collar meets the lapel. Traditional but also reassuringly contemporary, notched-lapel suits are versatile and ready for basically anything. Opt for a medium width and you really can’t go wrong.
- Peaked lapels are styled with points that angle toward the shoulders. A relatively formal look, peaked lapels are typically seen on tailcoats, morning coats and double–breasted jackets. Keep in mind, these statement-making lapels call attention to your suit—and to you. If blending in at the office is a priority, best wait until your closet includes several more conservative suit options before investing in this feature.
- Shawl lapels were introduced in the Victorian era as part of a smoking jacket, an informal evening wear option. Today shawl lapels are most frequently seen on tuxedoes. Choosing this informal lapel for office wear would be a no-no.
Single, double or no vents?
The slits or “vents” at the back of your jacket affect both the look and functionality of your entire suit.
- Single vent jackets are cut with a slit that runs five to six inches up the back center seam of the jacket, offering comfort and grace of movement. The downside? When you plunge your hands into your pockets, the single vent splits, presenting a less than perfect professional picture: your worsted wool-clad rear end.
- Double vents evolved from the English riding coat, the turnout tailored with two vents that allowed the equestrian to sit comfortably while looking suave in the saddle. Even today, sans steed, the double-vent jacket provides maximum form and function, giving you freedom of movement and an unbroken line.
- No-vent jackets are cut with no opening at the back to create a sleek, streamlined silhouette. That is, until you sit down. Or reach into your pockets. When the wearer twists, reaches or performs other essential movements, the no-vent jacket inevitably bunches, wrinkles and creases in a most, ahem, ungentlemanly manner. Go for a vented jacket instead.
Pants: To pleat or not to pleat?
Trousers are cut in two silhouettes. A flat front gives a trim, close fit that looks great on slim men. Flat-front trousers are cut with a shorter rise—the distance between the crotch and top of the waistband—and are worn with the band falling below the natural waistline.
Pleated trousers are cut with extra fabric pressed and sewn into folds at front. Pleated trousers have a longer rise and roomier fit, and are worn with waistband above the hips. They are an attractive option for larger men.
3. CHOOSE THE RIGHT FABRIC
Suit fabric comes in hundreds of fabrications, weaves, patterns and textures. Popular weaves include glen plaid, pinstripes, nailhead, sharkskin, herringbone, houndstooth and tweed. Fabrications range from cotton and linen for warm weather to angora and alpaca for cold climes, to all-season wool. Your best bet for a first suit? A three-season worsted wool in flat, medium-weight plain weave.
Worsted wool: the wonder suiting
Unlike heavy wool flannel, worsted wool threads are tightly twisted before being woven into a versatile fabric with countless style options. In addition to being breathable and long wearing, worsted wool drapes beautifully and is soil- and wrinkle-resistant.
4. LOVE YOUR TAILOR
A good tailor has the power to transform a $300 off-the-rack number into a suit that looks like it cost you five times as much. A tailor can nip, tuck and tack fabric and detailing to accentuate your body’s best features—and draw attention away from those you find less attractive. Don’t know a good one? Department stores like Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s offer complimentary tailoring basics when you purchase a suit from them.
The key alterations to consider:
Sleeve length: Ask your tailor for guidance in shortening sleeves to reveal a quarter to half an inch of shirt cuff.
Jacket body: Whatever your build, you’ll find the most flattering jacket skims your body. If your off-the-rack jacket seems too baggy, ask your tailor about taking in the jacket darting and back seam.
Trouser waistline: Your trousers will drape better and you’ll tug, cinch and fuss less if the waist fits. Speak with your tailor about taking in or letting out the waistline—most trouser waists can be altered one to two inches.
Trouser length: Loose, puddled trousers look sloppy. Have the hem altered to work with the suit, your taste and your figure. And don’t forget to bring along proper dress shoes when getting your suit altered—flip-flops or trainers distort measurements and drape. You have three trouser-length choices:
- Full-break: A trouser with a full break covers about two-thirds of your shoelaces in front, then angles diagonally to the back of the trouser where it touches the top of the heel. This style looks best with looser, pleated trousers.
- Half-break: Trousers with a half break cover about half of your shoelaces, then angle to the back of the trouser to hit the top of your heel.
- No break:While trousers with no break used to be derisively called “floodwater pants,” they are now a hot fashion item. But as with three-button suits mentioned above, beware of extremes which can become outdated quickly. You might want to ask your tailor to leave an extra inch in the hem so you can lengthen your trousers as fashions—or your mind—change.
You’re almost a suit guru… You now have enough tailoring lingo and suiting know-how to keep up with even Savile Row regulars. From the notch of your lapel to the break of your trousers, you will feel your best in a suit that reflects your style and is mega-flattering—all without breaking the bank.
Just be prepared for extra attention: your newly be-suited look is sure to turn heads at your buddy’s wedding, and receive that subtle approving eyebrow raise at your job interview.
So, go forth and suit up with confidence!
Photography by Justin Duplantis for Mr. Essentialist.